SGR – A bucket-list ride

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is perhaps Kenya’s most prized accomplishment in the recent while. It is after all, the country’s most ambitious project since its independence. As such, there has been a buzz about it ever since it was launched some two years ago. The speed, plus the comfort were supposed to revolutionize the experience of travelling between Nairobi and Mombasa. A journey that otherwise goes on overnight on a bus, would now be completed in a mere 4 hours. The comfort was also improved, the price was competitive and the scenery could not be matched by the views from a bus ride. It is for these reasons that I was quite excited to get the experience myself.

The experience of taking the SGR, for the most part, lived up to the hype it had received. The train left exactly on time without a minute of delay. The train was full to capacity, a good indicator that travelers had taken well to the service. The ride was as smooth as advertised, in fact, it was so smooth that it felt like the train was moving considerably slower than it should have been. The train was clean, well-organized and well maintained, including the toilets, something I appreciated and hope continues to be so. The views were spectacular, especially when crossing through the vast savannahs, or Tsavo National park. There weren’t many animals to be spotted, but there were a few elephants at least. The food served on board was also quite good; there was a wide variety of items on the menu and there was something for everyone.

I had ridden the train from Nairobi but, unlike most people on the train, I was not headed to Mombasa. Instead, my journey took me to Voi. As it turns out, Voi is actually a rather popular stop, especially with tourists going to the Tsavo National park. The service in these smaller stations is just as efficient as in bigger stations, if not even better. The train had arrived exactly on time and I had arrived a satisfied customer with a lot of good things to say as is evident here.

There is one thing I liked less about this experience though. The locations of the stations: they are far from city centers. Even for a smaller station like Voi, one still has to take a vehicle to get to the town center.

All in all, the SGR experience was a good one. It was not merely about getting from point A to point B, or the comfort, or the speed, or any other one thing that’s good about it. What made it wholesomely good was all of these put together. I hope you had the same experience I did, I hope you get this experience if you haven’t tried it yet and I am looking forward to experiencing it on my next trip.

If you would like to share this experience, ticket pricing and all other relevant information can be found here.

AirBnb Nairobi – a traveler’s experience.

When I am back home in Nairobi, Airbnb provides a convenient base for me to catch up with family and friends whilst having some me-time too. I tend to stay in the Kilimani area; I find it reasonably safe to walk around any time of the day and the area is well connected with transport links.

A couple of years ago I found a good Airbnb place on Riara Road (behind Junction Mall), which became a regular for my annual trips. The young couple who hosted it provided a good balance between privacy and company. I rented one of their en-suite rooms and stayed there on 3 occasions. One of my favourite things when I am in Nairobi is having my shoes polished, I especially enjoy the banter that comes with the experience. I have had some of the most interesting conversations, sat up on that bench, having my shoes made over. I found a good shoe-shine stall at Junction Mall opposite the main entrance on Ngong Road. He (let’s call him Karanja) spruced up my 10-year-old, tired-looking pair of boots to have them looking so brand new that I got compliments about them. Karanja and I had a jolly good banter and the interactive experience was worth way more than I paid for.

During a recent visit to Nairobi, I was told that he had moved back to the countryside for personal reasons and would try to run a business there. I was devastated. The shoe-shine stall remained and I continued using their services but the experience was not the same. I lost the spring in my step.

Having a pamperous time is one of my other pastimes in Nairobi. I found a good spa, off Mfangano Street in town. It was a basic set up with excellent service. Imagine, a manicure, pedicure, hand & foot massage all for 300 bob. The technician (let’s call him Onyango) did a great job paying attention, he made certain that my cuticles were impeccable, I had to have him at my fingertips, pun intended.

My last Airbnb place was a studio apartment, on Kirinyaga Road, a 7-minute walk to Onyango’s spa. As we got used to seeing each other every other day, the conversation starter often was ‘leo ni massage tu’ (massage only today). My toes and fingers were pristine and I flaunted them wearing sandals literally come rain or sunshine, and holding that glass of wine for that few more seconds longer. I took care to tip Onyango well at each visit.

The Airbnb location on Kirinyaga Road was edgy at night but the flat felt safe once I got into the complex. Apart from proximity to the spa, the host happened to be a same gender loving woman and it is likely that there was a visceral affinity to the transaction. The flat complex itself was a peaceful atmosphere with professional security guards. I got friendly with a couple of neighbours who also run an Airbnb place at the complex, and we had some drinks and a takeaway at the flat on a couple of occasions. Daytimes on Kiringaga Road were busy with lorries, matatus and motorbikes hooting and dodging each other and potholes, bearing in mind that it was right in the middle of hardware stores and car mechanics. I would walk into various parts of town in the day to meet family or friends and navigating my way there and back without getting run over was a lovely challenge. The location of the flat was convenient for meeting friends and family who did business in town. Evenings out were always by Uber or a ride with friends. Two hundred bob got me to most bars in town and Westlands cost 350-400 bob on Uber. I will probably explore a different part of the neck of the woods at my next visit, for a fresh experience.

The Eye of Kenya – How daring are you?

The Eye of Kenya, rising to Nairobi’s grandeur in the most beautiful way.

In March of 2019, the Two Rivers Mall opened Africa’s largest and Kenya’s first Ferris wheel, dubbed the ‘Eye of Kenya’. The wheel is at least 55 meters in diameter and features 40 carriages each with a capacity of six passengers. A ride on the eye of Kenya will cost you Ksh 500 per head and lasts 17 minutes.

The views from the top of the eye of Kenya are spectacular. One has a bird’s eye view of the mall itself as well as the nearby town of Ruaka. Additionally, under the right conditions, you can also make out the skyline of Nairobi city in the distance.

The eye of Kenya operates daily from 9 am to 7:30 pm. It is located on the amusement section of the mall where, aside from riding the wheel, there are numerous other fun things to try out. Other than there Eye of Kenya, this area of the mall offers different kinds of rides and games that you can enjoy. This makes it ideal for a date or even a family fun day out.

Payment for admission can either be by cash or by Mpesa.

SWVL – A cool new way to ride

SWVL, comfort and convenience transforming public transport in Nairobi

SWVL is a recent entrant into the rapidly growing ridesharing and cab-hailing market. It is unique though, unlike most ride-sharing apps that offer cab services, SWVL offers bus rides instead.

SWVL buses have a fixed route with fixed bus stops and charge a fixed fare. They also work on a timed schedule, meaning you don’t have to wait until a bus fills up. The buses arrive mostly on time as advertised, which is impressive for the Nairobi traffic and which means you don’t have to worry about running late.

To use the service, one only has to download the app from the Appstore or the play store and register like you would any other ridesharing app. In the app, you then choose your preferred pickup bus stop and destination and your preferred time. The app shows you the details of your ride, including the driver’s name and phone number as well as the bus registration number.

The buses themselves are spacious, clean and well maintained. Additionally, because it is still a fairly new service, it occasionally offers promotional codes that you can take advantage of and ride at a subsidized fare, or even for free. Even then, the fixed fare charged is only Ksh 200 per person, which is fair considering the convenience offered by the service.

SWVL does still have some way to go. The routes offered are still rather few and mostly restricted to major routes. During off-peak hours, there are also fewer buses and, while this is understandable, it does mean you may have to wait longer for the next bus. The uptake on the service also seems to be slow and you may find yourself in a largely empty bus.

That said, SWVL is still a service you should consider for the convenience it offers.

The Nairobi National Park, a gem in the city

Ever wondered what it would be like to enjoy a game drive without having to leave the city? The answer lies in the short distance to the Nairobi National Park, found right in the heart of the city, The Nairobi National Park boasts a large and varied wildlife population and is one of Kenya’s most successful rhinoceros sanctuaries.

Giraffe, buffalo, crocodile, hippopotamus, lion, leopard, baboon, zebra, wildebeest and cheetah are just some of the residents that call the Nairobi National Park home. Bird watchers will be pleased with the numerous species of birds that perch atop the acacia trees.

The park has picnic facilities that allow the visitors to relax and experience tranquility on the King Fisher, the Mokoiyiet and the Impala. A bit of Kenya’s history can be found here with the historic ivory burning by former President Daniel Arap Moi being done on a site at the park.

In addition to the wonderful scenery, the park has an authentic camping site offering the thrill of camping in the wild.

As the day cools and the sun sets, there’s nothing as thrilling as a chance to catch that moment where a lion decides it’s time to feed.